Posted on September 21, 2018
I wore my dad’s wedding suit, all lovingly hand-stitched, on two major occasions:
The first time was when i was 16, a school dressup, I went as a member of the mafia. Not mine, necessarily, because as far as I knew, nobody had been whacked by my family, although there have been a number of dubious, extreme accidents over the years. With my dad’s wedding suit, I wore the requisite hat and machine gun.
The other time I wore the suit was not for dress-ups, it was simply a matter of choice on my first day at university. I was 8 months short of my 18th birthday, and extreme weight loss gave me few options to wear. I didn’t want to say that I was straight-outta-highschool, not too hardcore, either. I could have gone Goth, but that wasn’t my thing, so I went Mod instead, before I knew exactly what that meant. Thanks to Google, I know know now that I looked the part (without the hat and machine gun, of course). But I just wanted to stand out a little, not be one of the nice girls, benign and forgettable. I wanted to be memorable, but only for the right reasons – ‘cept I didn’t know what those reasons were back then..
The way I reminisce over those days, 31 years later, it didn’t feel planned so much, but it certainly marked my entrance to a new place I called home for a couple of years. I even changed my name, from Josephine to Jo. Not a huge shift, but it marked my break from family, from all the other Josephs and Josephines.
That was thirty-one years ago.
And still, I wake up every morning, and wonder how I should dress so I can go out into the world a little less forgettable and benign than some, a rebel. A Jo in her dad’s wedding suit, except it doesn’t fit me anymore. Most anorexics get fat eventually anyway, thanks to yoyo-dieting, the rest just die like Caren Carpenter (my hero at the time – I told mum how I was so sad I couldn’t be as skinny as her and she just gave me a fat lip).
Thirty-one years ago, I was having so much fun. I was drunk, stoned, studying, barely-studying, fucking, tripping, putting dishwashing liquid into the moat at Deakin Uni just to turn it into a stream of bubbles, running around with bikies who looked after me because I was the kid. We were so stupid, so high, writing poetry and songs, like “medication time”, when it was our turn for the bong. We made music on walls with wooden spoons, with lids. We wrote them on the walls of a mystical house in Pakington Street in Geelong. It was a magic time.
We also threw up on ourselves, became paranoid after eating mushrooms, forgot the dates in history exams and slept with each other’s boyfriends, by accident, but it was ok, as long as we looked after each other, understood each other’s parental strifes, and stayed ahead of the news, knew about politics and books. Everything mattered.
We were fucking fighters when we weren’t too stoned to get out of bed.
I remember in the 80s when there was one of those financial crises and all people cared about was the extra tax they had to pay, not the greater good that their extra tax was serving. They were fucking self-serving big-L Liberals. We were Socialists with torn jeans in 1987, because we couldn’t afford another pair of jeans. Scum. Hippies. Students. This was pre-grunge.
I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. Those people, MY BEST FRIENDS, what the hell happened to them? Where are they? I barely remember their names, but they meant THE WORLD to me. I’d do anything for and with them. I miss them so much.
How does friendship that is SO MEANINGFUL just turn to sand on a 90 mile beach?
It’s lonely having no meaning, no addictions. You also lose the friends who said they didn’t like being around when you had the addictions. They forgot how boring you were without the booze.
What they don’t tell you about getting sober, about losing all the addictions (because they are losses), is that life doesn’t necessarily get better. Life just becomes something you remember and long for. It becomes so boring. It becomes something you endure. Having the privilege to stay home while I’m withdrawing from old meds and going on new meds isn’t lost on me. So privileged. SO PRIVILEGED. The problem with having manic-depression (the best kind if you can keep the manic state going as long as possible) and quitting smoking, booze and everything is that you’re just left with the depression (because, in all honesty, the manic bit doesn’t stick around long, it’s the depression that lasts the longest).
We used to have this joke – “I did (fill in the gap with your own dirty secret) and I turned out ok”. But we didn’t.
WE DIDN’T turn out ok. How many Gen-Xers take anti-depressants, Diazepam, go onto Tinder even though they’re in a “monogamous” relationship, over eat, under exercise, over exercise, watch Netflix for days on end, or drink to oblivion to forget all of those small-l liberal socialist conversations that turned into little more than white picket fences and mortgages and a tonne of dirty nappies?
Naomi Klein is one of us, but she had a decent start, with academic parents in the union movement. My dad was a commie, like, literally, but when he came here, to Australia, he tossed out his beliefs out of fear. He never crossed a picket line, of course, but he stopped going to meetings – that’s how you got deported in the 60s and 70s. So he just gave it up. He gave himself up – that’s how I see him. We talked though. A lot. About the movement. I was encouraged to read 1984, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and (without dad’s knowledge, Fear of Flying – you know, for a well-rounded education). We talked about what was important. Mum didn’t get it. She just cared about whether anyone heard us arguing.
One time, my friend Nat and I did acid and stayed home, just your average Saturday night. And as the sun rose onto a gloomy smog-filled West Footscray vista, we noted all the boxes, the bits, we buy a big bit to fill with our little bits – souvenirs, babies, bluetooth speakers, cats and dogs, plants that die, smart TVs that you replace as often as your plants die, photos of people whose names we no longer remember.
So anyway, I’m depressed. I have manic depression. I am bi-polar. I am not anxious – I hate that word. Anxiety is controllable, Depression is not. It’s hard wired. I’ve been taking medication now for around 15 years – effexor, lexapro, prozac, blah blah blah – I don’t even know what I’m taking now because I was sort forcibly taken to my shrink (sorta forcibly because I’d just taken 4 diazepam so I didn’t make much of a fuss anyway). Jeff now controls my meds, so I don’t know what they all are. I have a carer, like an old person in a home. Isn’t that just everything a married couple longs to become – the carer and the cared.
I’m possibly going to hospital soon – you know the ones: Melbourne Private, Whyndam (they let you visit with your dogs), Essendon Psych – to clear my system of everything so we can start again. My understand of meds is that it takes around 2-3 months to notice significant change. Is that how long I’ll be in hospital without my dogs and cats and laptop and phone and music? Part of me feels a sense of relief be because I need some headspace. But then there’s the rest of it. What do I do? I don’t like colouring. I don’t like people, I don’t like being told when to go to sleep. At least having a home carer (aka husband – geez he must be SO rapt), I’ll be used to it, and I can refuse his demands.
I feel sad, and freaked out. I mean, I read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Girl Interrupted” and they don’t turn out well for the loud people. And I’m one of the loud people. Do they still give lobotomies?
Carrie Fisher was open about her fight with all forms of depression and told Oprah in 2011 about how she found ECT treatment to be the best thing she ever did.
“Some of my memories will never return. They are lost – along with the crippling feeling of defeat and hopelessness. Not a tremendous price to pay.”
But she killed herself, despite it all.
So did these talented people who despite their darkness managed to do wonderful things and leave legacies:
Robin Williams, 63
Hunter S. Thompson, 67
Ernest Hemingway, 61
Anthony Bourdain, 61
Kurt Kobain, 27
Chris Cornell, 52
Hunter S. Thompson, 68
Sylvia Plath, 30
I’m not a victim, my stories got me here, got me writing this. But I do feel alone. Hardly anyone has reached out to me. Depression is hard to talk to people about. It’s so negative and pretty boring. I even mentioned that I was disappointed that they hadn’t reached out. I don’t even know what I would do if they did reach out? Maybe I’d just want to sit in the same room, silently, smile at them now and then, and continue what we were doing – reading, drawing, knitting, playing with a Rubik’s cube, snuggling with the dog, checking Instagram, creating a zine. If they want to know how I am, they should read this.
But maybe hospital will be better – a bunch of strangers and no expectations. Nobody to disappoint or be disappointed by.
I feel bad, sad and guilt. There’s a business to run, and I’m dumping it all on Jeff and everyone else. There you go.
Sometimes I think it would be easier if I weremnt around at all. But I don’t want to die by choice. I did once. But that involved booze and pills. But I want to do something, something that doesn’t involve upsetting people. Something that leaves a mark, just like the first day of uni when I wore my dad’s wedding suit and looked like a Mod. If I don’t do something, then what is the point of this mortal fucking coil? You know? Because this just isn’t enough, despite what the shrinks and coaches tell me when they say I should write a gratitude journal. Fuck that. I need more but, right now, I don’t have more. I just don’t care.
Posted on September 19, 2017
When I was 17, I hung out with a bunch of people who rode motorbikes and had tattoo parlours, as we called them back before they were art studios. One guy’s girlfriend was in the middle of a major project, a peacock that covered her back and shoulder. It was epic.
I just wanted a bee on my boob.
The tattooist, who thought of me as his kid sister, said no. So I didn’t get a bee on my boob when I was 17. In fact, I didn’t get my first tattoo until my early 30s, and I remember thinking, during those years in between, that I was really glad I never got the boob bee.
Now, closer to 50, and with a soft, fleshy landscape dotted in blue, red, green, pink and yellow ink, the truth is, I wouldn’t care if I got the boob bee. Granted it would be blotchy and stretched, and as faded as a pair of jeans, and it really had no meaning, but it would have been a true mark of my earliest rebellion – so much more interesting that memories of anorexia and whatnot.
The thing about tattoos is that you should never regret them. For reals.
I remember watching Miami Ink and everyone had a freaking story they wanted commemorated by a tattoo, and it drove me a little nuts. So when my tattooists have asked me, over the years, what my tattoos are about, I always want to come up with something truly significant, but all I’ve got is:
“So there’s this illustration, and I think it’s pretty.”
“My friend wanted to.”
I mean, does everything have to mean something? Is there anything wrong with a tattoo that has no meaning? You know, tattoo nihilism.
What’s wrong with just something that makes you smile, or laugh, or just reminds us that we were dickheads once?
People told me I would regret my tattoos, that my saggy tattooed arms would look like shit.
Even Cindy Ray, Australia’s first tattooed lady, warns people about aging tattoos.
“Tattoos look great when you’re young, but they too get old.”
Well, Cindy, let me tell you that the body ages, parts will sag, with or without tattoos, so don’t worry about it.
The thing about tattoos is that, ironically, they’re temporary. That is, the moment is temporary. However, the thing they remind you of is permanent – they remind you that you were drunk and dumb, totally into cartoons or skulls, loved the colour pink, loathed your mum, collected buttons, had a best friend who was bound to be in your life FOREVER, or were hooning around with your other, soon to be middle-aged, friend who wanted a matching piece of ink. Or maybe you just wanted to be badass.
One of my favourite tattoos isn’t that old but it’s faded as fuck. It’s across my belly and ribs and its condition serves as a reminder of the kilos I’ve lost, and gained, and lost, and gained. There’s a line of text from my favourite childhhood book that says: blahblablahblablahblahblah
Part of this tattoo looks so terrible! Should the tattooist have recommended a different placement? Maybe. A different font? Sure. Do I care? Not for a second. I remember the weeks leading up to the day I got it – I was so nervous. This was before girls in Melbourne were getting tatts on their wrists, sleeves or chests. I thought I was crossing over to a different world (I wasn’t), and I was about to change (I didn’t). I have no regrets at all.
Of course, there’s the unwritten rule that you should NEVER EVER get your partner’s name tattooed on your body. NEVER EVER. It will only lead to divorce and heartache – not regret, necessarily, but you don’t want to mess with that fate juju. Even after 24 years married to the same guy who I adore, I’m not game to try that because who doesn’t remember Johnny Depp’s Wynona Forever? That crazy cat.
I kind of like the idea of a regrettable tattoo. Not that I wish I had the name of an ex-lover tattooed on my lower back or anything. I mean…
But do I wish I got that boob bee back in 1987? A little. Although, it still lives with me, almost as if I did get it.
Posted on September 13, 2017
So I’m around the middle of my life right now (let’s hope) and it’s making me think of things done and things not done. I’ve added to my bucket list today but also found this terrific series of questions that I think we would all benefit from asking ourselves. So here goes.
- What if you were to die tomorrow? What would you wish you could do before you die?
- What would you do if you had unlimited time, money and resources?
- What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
- Any countries, places or locations you want to visit?
- What are your biggest goals and dreams?
- What do you want to see in person?
- What achievements do you want to have?
- What experiences do you want to have / feel?
- Are there any special moments you want to witness?
- What activities or skills do you want to learn or try out?
- What are the most important things you can ever do?
- What would you like to say/do together with other people? People you love? Family? Friends?
- Are there any specific people you want to meet in person?
- What do you want to achieve in the different areas: Social, Love, Family, Career, Finance, Health (Your weight, Fitness level), Spiritual?
- What do you need to do to lead a life of the greatest meaning?
That reminds me of a book I read a little while ago: Die Empty by Todd Henry
“Don’t go to your grave with your best work inside of you. Choose to die empty.”
Posted on June 30, 2017
Even though I work on Saturdays, it still feels like Friday is the end of the week. I work in our shop for half a day with Jeff and it’s busy but still our fun day! It’s the day when people come and visit with their dogs and love to have a yarn so, yes, even though it’s busy and it’s work, it’s fun.
So Friday always feels like the day before the weekend nevertheless! And that means it’s a planning day.
Having no kids to wrangle means we can sleep in but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. This weekend I plan to:
Learn to use my new Speedball calligraphy set.
Do some wild writing based on my writing coach’s lessons – check out Laurie Wagner’s writing here.
Keep embroidering my first negative space piece. This is my inspiration but let’s see how we go.
Plot out the cat run so the kitties can have fun outside.
Plot out the new veggie patch so dad can start working it for summer. Here’s the raised kit I’m planning to get.
Finally put that Hills Hoist online for someone to take!
Go to the Laverton Market with the family and try not to get a parking ticket!
Most important of all – DO NOT TAKE VALIUM!
Posted on May 19, 2017
I originally wrote this in April 2015. I’ve revised it in light of Chris Cornell’s suicide. Vale.
ACT 1: When I was 17, I got drunk for the first time along Melbourne’s Yarra River. It’s where all students went at the end of the year to forget their high-school woes and to cut loose.
Someone threw up on a cop car (LEGEND!) and I pashed a lot of boys.
The thing is, a lot of us Catholic school girls, especially us wogs, grew up in tortuous communities where EVERY SINGLE step was measured by our parents, neighbours, people we met at a wedding one time, and people who knew our mother and father but we had not seen since we were ten. And either despite this, or in spite of this, we Rebelled with a capital R. I knew lots of Aussie girls who rebelled against being a teenager, but us wog kids, well we rebelled against so much more.
What is incredibly sad is that, at 48, I’m still rebelling. Or perhaps just reeling. What was Chris Cornell reeling from when he chose to hang himself instead of heading back on stage, then back to his family? What made him so sad that he didn’t see an alternative?
Guilt and Fear do not stop just because you get older. Sadness becomes deeper, more tonal, filled with regret, missed opportunities, death.
ACT 2: Being high is better than, well, not being high.
Some people hold onto their youth by listening to the same music or wearing the same clothes or even holding onto the same hairstyle as that time when they were most happy in their lives. Some of us hold onto the greatest moments, and we mythologise them.
I mythologise drinking, getting high, acting out.
Being high makes me think I’m a better writer, a victim, funny, a great friend and wife, more interesting, just more…
And because of this…
Sometimes it feels like I have no past (or just no weekend).
ACT 3: We didn’t have digital cameras in the 80s and I had no money while I was at uni, so that means I have no photographic proof of my memories, my most important memories that explain who I am, whether good or bad.
I don’t have proof of:
– My first acid trip where I saw a cicada that was the MOST GIANT FLY I’d ever seen.
– The time Maree and I made a 4-Season diorama in a shoe box (based on the children’s book, The trip).
– The time, in 1987, when a bunch of us chucked a bunch of dishwashing liquid in the Deaking Uni moat.
– The hitch-hiking posts at Deakin
– The house on Packington Street in Geelong with walls covered in graffiti.
– My “tomato” plants in Geelong.
– Passing out in public phone booths from not eating.
– Sit ins against HECS in 1986-88
– My purple plastic and flannel-lined raincoat that I picked up in that place on 13th Street near Uni in Eugene.
– The glittery blue bike I bought for a gram of weed in Eugene.
– The first time I met Jeff (although I have a t-shirt from the place where we met)…/
I also don’t see anyone from that time (late 80s). I have no photographic evidence, and a very romantic memory.
My memories of that time are hilarious, though, and it feels like I’m holding on REALLY TIGHT to a time that wasn’t real, a time that was so fleeting, a time that has no proof. No photos. No friends that still exist (despite Facebook).
Posted on May 14, 2017
On Mothers Day, I’m reminded of my childlessness, that I’ve never carried any number of children, that I bled for 8 days every 21 days for almost 30 years for no reason other than my body said so. But then I look to my silly family of six–husband (one so far), dogs (two), and cats (two), and remind myself of the wonder of the Mirena IUD (No. More. Blood.) and smile.
In all fairness though, I might not have any kids, but spending time away from home with my parents is like being around tween siblings without internet connectivity.
It’s Mother’s Day weekend and we’re at the weekender in Hepburn Springs, our go-to for a bit of solitude. It’s nice here, super low-key save for the cars heading into town (Daylesford) for brunch and a spa treatment, and there’s the odd flock of cockatoos screaming at the heavens. It’s cold enough at this time of the year where we can light a fire and don’t feel guilty about skipping a morning walk. Dad fiddles around with the trees, hacking into bushes and pulling weeds. Today he harvests a bag of olives from the front yard. Jeff and I read on our phones, give the cats our feet to tear up and largely ignore the barking dogs, but make sure to top up the fire. The house is sparse–it’s a weekender, after all–and there’s no cleaning to do, no laundry, no anything. We don’t even have music on because it’s nice to just read and chill after a week of work and to-do lists.
Thing is, mum doesn’t use an iPad, or a smart phone, she doesn’t read anymore and, while she enjoys a soak in the bath, she prefers a shower for its efficiency.
My mother likes to Get. Things. Done. And relaxing quietly is not one of those Things.
Instead, she talks to the animals. My mother doesn’t do silence. So she insists on conversation with the dogs, and when they don’t answer she looks to me and waits for me to answer on their behalf. She remarks about how clean and the tidy the house is, about what she’ll make for dinner, about how she’s happy to make scrambled eggs for mother’s day brekkie instead of going to Cliffys in Daylesford (but I’ve got my eye on a hash brown with aged cheddar). She laughs at the kitten and marvels at her intelligence (trust me, she’s just an average moggy), and tries to catch other, feral, cat as she stalks down the stairs on her way to the litter box. It won’t happen. That cat is not the cuddly kind. She says the dogs are So Elegant in their hoodies (They’ve just had a shave and are freezing. Plus I like to dress them up. Don’t judge!). They do look pretty cute.
My mother stands, a lot, because sitting is frivolous, although she says that it’s to keep warm. Sitting makes her cold. Plus she’s itchy (and needs to go to the doctor to see why she’s so itchy all the time). I go on reading, and when I’ve finished with my cup of tea she swipes it from my fingers before I’ve laid it on the coffee table and takes it into the sink to wash it. She even dries it and puts it away.
There’s no ironing to be done. No grout to clean. No spare room to dust. Dad doesn’t need a clean outfit to wear to the coffee shop or his social club because there isn’t one in Hepburn Springs. Mum’s routine is out of whack, poor love. So she washes every dish as it’s dirtied, and she laughs at the cats and dogs.
I think it must be hard to be the mother of an only child who didn’t have kids.
Mum was the last of her family, and all of her siblings had either died or were married by the time she was born. She lived with a widowed mother, and didn’t learn anything about normal mothering, just that desperation with which my grandmother held onto her because she was her last baby, the one she still had in her womb when her husband died in a bomb blast in the war. My mother was gold to her mother. The last. The only. The most cherished. So she never learned what it was like to be a normal kid.
So when she left her village, in among the linen and cloth nappies, my mother brought regret and guilt with her on the month-long boat ride to Australia, and she’s gripped them both with the strength of fighter. She doesn’t deny it either. She blames her mother’s death on her sudden departure, soon after marriage and childbirth. She regrets leaving. Reckons it’s all her fault.
I would never wish my mother’s mothering on a child. Maybe that’s why I never had kids (although I blame my eggs, actually). There’s far too much anger and sorrow in my mother’s mothering. Oh, and resentment, regret, and a lack of understanding of anything remotely related to kids in Australia.
It’s a little hard for us both on Mother’s Day, I think. Mostly mum, though. She didn’t get that chance to get better at motherhood the second or third time around, and she won’t get the chance to throw all the rules away with grand kids. She wants to indulge someone, many someones (I think), in a way she never could when she was scrimping and saving to pay of the mortgage before she turned 40. Back then she had no money or time to squander on reading anything longer than pulp fiction or an old Italian fashion magazine. She would sometimes spend her bus ride to work re-read the five books she’d come over to Australia with. Mostly, she looked at the regular faces who waited at the bus stop and made up stories about them.
I went to work at the clothing factory with mum when I was 14. I spent the summer in the basement of that factory on Flinders Lane, and 2 hours a day watching the regulars at the bus stops on our way to and from the city and she would tell me who’d missed the bus and who hadn’t changed their shoes or shirt.
Back then, at home, she was like a single mother to an only child, with dad working 80 hour weeks at the factory or with mates at the pub or cafe. There was no time for frivolity, just resentment and rage and the terror that she wouldn’t manage to get everything done before Sunday night.
But with old age comes a little softening, the recognition (perhaps) that there is another way (maybe). She overfeeds the dogs and dances with them. She takes them for walks and indulges them by letting them sleep on the couch in front of the heater. She would make lunch and dinner for us every day if I wanted. She would call and talk for hours, but I’m just too busy to listen. I just want serenity now, because I got so much rage for so long, so I seek the quiet.
My mother tells me how lucky I am to have avoided having kids (geez, thanks mum). She says they’re too much worry. She reminds me of all the travel I’ve done, of all the travel I’ll do, that I’ll never have to cry over a child. She would have been a great nonna, my mum, because she makes her own pasta, still makes Sicilian donuts for St Martins Day, she sings to dusty old Italian tunes, and is an expert seamstress. She would have taught her grand kids how to embroider as though ants with angel wings had sewn the stitches. She didn’t have time to teach me, what with all the preparation for Mondays, but she’s ready to share her gifts now.
I wish I had time for her, but I’m too busy, what with all the preparation for Mondays. I’m too busy seeking silence. I don’t regret not having kids, not at 48, but I do wish I’d given my mother someone, plenty of someones, to share herself with, so she had someone to talk to other than the dogs.
Posted on March 6, 2017
I’ve been abandoned, and I have abandoned. Here’s the list:
Bernadette Luvara – I left town with my parents when I was 10. We didn’t have Facebook. Sorry.
Nicolina Grimaldi – I felt superior. I didn’t respect you. Sorry.
Nancy Camarda – I left for uni. I felt like a loser. Like you wouldn’t get me. Sorry.
Maree Lavecchia – We were everything. We loved. I left. You cursed me. Sorry.
Anna Lazarevic – You had a kid. You didn’t get me. I felt judged. Sorry.
Connie Athanasiadis – You had a kid. I didn’t get you. You resented me. Sorry.
Rachael Kacen – You had a kid. I hated it. Sorry.
Samone Bos – I don’t understand. I’m jealous. Sorry.